There’s scarcely a heavier mantle than that cast over the man touted as the future of Detroit house music. Over time Motor City’s dance producers have remained unique in their ability to incorporate their hometown’s rich musical heritage into the club future. The city’s local legends, of which there are a disproportionately high number, would never dream of clumsily laying a disco loop over a 4/4. Instead they bond intimately with the soul, jazz and funk that drifts through the city’s veins, fusing it with early European techno’s electric pulse into something still revelatory to this day: a wholly local sound that effortlessly taps into deep emotions while still commanding booties to the ‘floor.
Coming from a virtuosic family and with a handful of exciting early singles to his name, a young Kyle Hall seemed perfectly poised to take Detroit’s crown at the turn of the decade. Yet his 2013 debut album, The Boat Party, for all its impressive craftsmanship, was prickly and overstuffed with contrasting ideas, a comment on cultural appropriation that wasn’t always that fun to listen to. With From Joy, Hall has finally arrived.
One might expect that Hall’s first great album would be the result of sitting down and really coming to terms with the album format, the flow and narrative required by the near-paradoxical idea of a dance long-player. Yet this could hardly be further from the true story. It’s all in the title – From Joy refers to an address, Joy Road, Hall’s dad’s place, where he recorded all of these tracks in his teens before 2010. It’s surprising that an album that flows so smoothly is a collection of tracks perhaps never intended to be released in this format. Ultimately, the LP stands as a testament to Hall’s innate musicality: he sounds best when he’s not trying so hard.
Musicality is the watchword in these tracks. Hall’s soundfield is typically busy, broken beats and percussive tics everywhere, but the mood is distinctly chilled thanks to beefy basslines that go where they please and extended synth jams. These synth workouts aren’t the repetitive melodies often heard in house tracks, exhibiting a complexity and unpredictability more akin to the wilder fringes of funk, back when synthesisers were still used to emulate traditional instruments.
Hall’s precocious teenage talent is clear from the off. Opener Damn! Im Feeln Real Close stutters over twinkling melodies and laid back synthcraft. Later Hall moves even further from the traditional dancefloor, with Able To’s loose future-funk and the gorgeous orchestral strains of Wake Up And Dip, which can’t fail to tug at the heartstrings. Yet some tracks bear more of Hall’s familiar trademarks, and they’re just as strong. Inverse Algebraic is a lopsided slice of house overflowing with funk, while the likes of Dervenen, Strut Garden, and Mysterious Lake are some of the best club tracks that Hall’s put his name to thus far.
Hall stated in a recent Fader interview that this album is about liberation – both psychological and spiritual. That very sense of freedom is writ large across From Joy. Hear its synths reach out towards the sky, its rhythms shuffle off into new territory. It seems for Hall that this album is also a personal liberation, expelling old material in order to move forward. One step back, two steps forward.